Updates on the Zika Virus Outbreak
Now deemed as a “global emergency” by the World Health Organization, the Zika virus outbreak continues to spread and affect people in the Western Hemisphere.
More evidence connecting Zika virus to microcephaly
Concerns are also growing for pregnant women since the mosquito-borne virus has been linked with microcephaly, a serious birth defect, which is characterized by an abnormally small head and brain in infants.
On February 1, 2016 WHO declared that the current cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, creates a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
At a hearing with the U.S. House of Representatives, for example, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that they had more evidence that links the Zika virus to microcephaly.
The CDC reported that genetic material of the Zika virus was found in brain tissue from two infants with microcephaly who had died. According to Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC Director, this was the “strongest evidence” to date of a connection between the birth defect and the virus, but cautioned it was not yet a conclusive link.
While CDC previously activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) last January 22, 2016, to respond to outbreaks of Zika occurring in the Americas and increased reports of birth defects and Guillain-Barré syndrome in areas affected by Zika, it has elevated its EOC activation to a Level 1, the highest level last February 8, 2016.
At least 72 people infected with Zika in the US
As of February 11, 2016, there have been at least 72 people diagnosed with the Zika virus in the U.S. since the latest outbreak began. Those who have been infected are spread across 21 states and Washington D.C. and at least four pregnant women have been confirmed to have the virus.All of the infections are believed to have been travel related except for one that was transmitted through sexual contact from an infected traveler to their partner.
Currently, the CDC is working with international public health partners and with state and local health departments in order to:
- Alert healthcare providers and the public about Zika.
- Post travel notices and other travel-related guidance.
- Provide state health laboratories with diagnostic tests.
- Detect and report cases, which will help prevent further spread.
With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will possibly increase and 80% of cases will not be diagnosed. Furthermore, these imported cases may even result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States.